Let’s be real; planning any kind of big event can feel completely overwhelming, especially for the first timers! You’ve ploughed your way through the google searches and lost yourself in the party wormhole that is Pinterest. We totally feel you; there are so many options today and other than looking at online reviews, it’s hard to know who to trust when it comes to that once in a lifetime event. The other day, a client phoned me to say her son had become obsessed with magicians and she had no idea what she was looking for, and I was able to give her my top recommendations as well as laying out what each company offered and who I had loved working with in the past. But for those of you who don’t have a Fairy Godmother hotline, where do you start? Here’s a highlight of our top 5 things to think about as your start to plan your big day!
1) Are they legal?
Let’s set the record straight: anyone can build a website. They don’t need to be a registered business, they don’t need to have any experience in their field, they just need basic SEO knowledge and a pretty template to have a “company.” The horror stories I have had from clients who decided to book the cheap route are ones that still haunt me. Setting aside the ethical reasons of opting for a local and legal company, let’s just look at the risk on your end. When you book a company without checking for any credentials, there is zero accountability on their part. Without being registered they can’t have liability insurance, they can jump company names whenever they want to avoid reviews, they aren’t held accountable by the BBB, and they don’t need to have criminal record checks. If you choose to go the “cheap” route, unprofessional and unkempt could be the least of your problems. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE make sure that whoever you choose at the very least has an up to date criminal record check with vulnerable persons sector. This individual will be interacting with small children, potentially in your home, and I cannot emphasize enough how important protecting the privacy of your children is.
2) What Do They Offer?
A lot of companies will charge “the going rate,” much like wedding photographers, etc, so it’s important to understand why that rate is being charged. What does your party actually get you? What quality are the costumes/wigs? Do they require a wig specialist and dry cleaning? How much experience do the characters have? Have they graduated from a professional theatre program and/or are working professionally in theatre and film, and if not then why are they charging a professional rate? If they are a legal business then they also probably have regular business hours with an office admin, legal fees, CC processing, bookkeeping, etc. I’m definitely one of those people who likes to do my research when it comes to booking professionals, so sometimes putting those questions in a little budget spreadsheet as you start to make your inquiries will help you to figure out what each company offers and what is most important to you.
3) The Unpaid Bonuses
To go back to the wedding analogy (can you tell I’m getting married soon?), I recently booked a photographer who has one of the higher rates in the City. I was definitely hesitant to move some of our floral budget into the photography budget, but within a week I was already confident I made the right decision. I’m a planner, but I know NOTHING about photography, and in my “perfect planning” I didn’t even consider the time of year/light. In the nicest way, the photographers told me we should consider either doing a first look or moving our ceremony earlier because the sunset was scheduled for 4:15PM and we’d lose all light otherwise. I so appreciated their wisdom and experience and I am now more confident than ever that I put my money in the right place.
My point is this: the ones who know their stuff won’t hesitate to walk you through the experience from beginning to end, gently make some suggestions, and also share with you what has worked and hasn’t worked in the past. This ensures your event goes as smoothly as possible, you know exactly what to expect, and you feel confident that you are in good hands and can relax on the big day!
4) Less is More
Every so often I chat to a parent on the phone who wants to go BIG with their kids birthday… I mean BIG. These events can be so much fun because sky is the limit, but (like I mentioned above), it’s important to book a company that is going to help you create the best experience, not take as much cash from you as they can. Having 3 bouncy castles and a petting zoo, and then expecting a character to lead any kind of structured itinerary does not a good party make. It’s also the reason we have a 15 child max for one performer; we know we will lose some clients who decide they want to book the company that has unlimited children, but we also know that there’s no way we can provide the level of entertainment that we want to if one actor is trying to organize a plethora of tiny humans. And those clients always come back the following year with a sheepish “you were right” smile and then we both laugh and plan an amazing party that we know we will both be thrilled about.
So, take a deep breath, jot down all of your amazing ginormous ideas, and then call the company that can help you pick through all of them to keep that WOW factor while structuring it in a way that works with the flow of your event.
5) Find the Magic
In the end, the most important thing is that your child/children have a magical time. I’ve auditioned incredible actors in this City who just don’t know how to talk to children. I’ve also auditioned a lot of people who are fantastic with children who just don’t quite bring the magical quality of make-belief and play. I sometimes find myself sitting there like George Banks interviewing nannies with resumes the length of the hallway, and then Mary Poppins walks in and everything just…brightens. And trust me… you want Mary Poppins. You can have all the best decorations and the most mindblowing costumes, but the biggest memories will come from the child having a moment of genuine connection with one of their favorite characters. It’s well worth taking a moment to consider your interactions with the person whose services you are seeking. Have they been consistently warm and friendly? Do they seem like someone who will be able to engage with your young guests? If there are multiple performers available, can your contact person make recommendations in line with the age group of the children who will be present and any specific needs of the birthday child? Go with your gut. It goes without saying the best performers love to put smiles on little faces and will be enthusiastic about offering ideas on how to do so.
So there you have it! Our top 5 things to think about when planning the big day. Now go out there and make those dreams happen (and when in doubt, put glitter on everything)! xo